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DVDs/Home Viewing

24 Jul 2013
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Director Neil Jordan makes Byzantium a vampire film that is actually worth watching. Now available via IFC On Demand, this is the first decent vampire film since the undead started sparkling and moping in the Twilight films. Saoirse Ronan stars as Eleanor, a vampire permanently stuck at the age of 16 for more than 200 years. She roams the Earth with her prostitute vampire mother, Clara (Gemma Arterton). Eleanor likes to write her stories down and then throw them away, as a means of keeping her secrets. She meets an interesting and ill boy (Caleb Landry Jones) and starts thinking that her vampire life is kind of boring. It’s nice to see a vampire story with a majestic scope that goes beyond mere camp. Jordan literally uses waterfalls of blood in his movie, and brings his true sense of style to the proceedings. Ronan and Arterton keep things interesting, even…
23 Jul 2013
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I suspect that a lot of the critics who are raving about Orange Is the New Black, Netflix’s new original series, failed to watch past the first few episodes. This drama about women behind bars starts off gangbusters, with touches of brilliance and great humor. But by the time I was watching the 13th episode, I was a few hours past over it. This one loses steam fast and becomes quite a letdown. The show degenerates from an introspective look at a woman’s stint in prison to a parade of clichés. At first, the story of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling)—who goes up the river for a felony she committed 10 years before—is nothing short of awesome. The show also boasts the best performance from Jason Biggs in a long time, as her beleaguered boyfriend. (There’s even a great American Pie joke.) However, as Piper settles in to prison life, we…
17 Jul 2013
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Like Schwarzenegger did in The Last Stand, Sylvester Stallone gives his all in service to Bullet to the Head and its undistinguished script. The results? Neither this nor Arnie’s offering is worth your time. Not surprisingly, both of these lame films flopped at the box office. Director Walter Hill (48 Hrs.) makes action/buddy films that all tend to feel the same. Unfortunately, this one has more in common with his Another 48 Hrs., in which the formula had already gotten tired. Stallone plays a tattooed thug named James Bonomo; his buddy is South Korean Taylor Kwon (played by Sung Kang), which leads to more than a few uncomfortable race jokes. The plot involves the usual crap: a double cross, a partner getting killed, somebody getting kidnapped, ax fights, etc. Stallone looks great and delivers his stupid lines with much aplomb. Kang is just there for the ride, offering little in…
16 Jul 2013
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Spike Lee tried for many years to get a movie about American sports hero Jackie Robinson, starring Denzel Washington, off the ground. However, he couldn’t make it happen. That’s too bad; I get a feeling that Lee, who made one of the great biopics with Malcolm X, would’ve done something really special. Instead, we got 42, from director Brian Helgeland (Payback). While it’s really good at times, it gets awfully hokey at other times, and as a result, the film is just OK. Chadwick Boseman is a great pick to play Robinson, as is Lucas Black to play Pee Wee Reese. Harrison Ford also delivers big-time as Branch Rickey, the man who brought Robinson to the majors. Christopher Meloni leaves the movie too soon as Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. (Durocher was suspended the year Robinson made his debut.) Boseman, who looks a lot like Robinson, shines even when the…
09 Jul 2013
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The Fab Four wisely reunited with Richard Lester, the director of their first film effort (A Hard Day’s Night), for Help!, an equally good and much-zanier movie. Ringo winds up with some sort of ring on his finger that he can’t take off—and this ring is essential in some crazy guy’s human-sacrifice ritual. So Ringo, Paul, George and John get chased all over the globe, including the Alps and the Bahamas (essentially because the boys wanted to get vacations there). The resulting film is the funniest British humor this side of Monty Python. I love John Lennon here, still sporting his mop-top and seemingly enjoying his part in Beatlemania. Lester pioneered music videos in a way with this movie; I love the sequence for “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” with Lennon strumming away happily on an acoustic guitar. And what’s cooler than the house in which the four…
08 Jul 2013
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If you have seen any of director Chan-wook Park’s films (Oldboy, Thirst), you know he is one creative and tremendously sick bastard. Stoker is his English-language debut, and it’s just as deranged and disturbing as his prior offerings. Mopey-faced Mia Wasikowska plays India, a girl just turned 18 who has lost her father (Dermot Mulroney) in a mysterious accident. Her mother (an excellent Nicole Kidman) invites India’s strange uncle (Matthew Goode) to stay at the house—and it slowly becomes apparent that he has a few “problems.” The filmmaking is visually impeccable (some of the dissolves are mind-blowing), and the performances are solid. The story is a little too sleepy at times for me to rank this among Park’s best works, but this twisty film still has many memorable moments; here’s hoping Park has many more films to come. Kidman reminds us why she’s an Oscar-winning actress with her work here.…
03 Jul 2013
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Elijah Wood seeks an image change in Maniac, a sickeningly brutal and slightly irritating remake of the 1980 psycho-slasher flick. Shot almost entirely from a killer’s point of view, Maniac rubs me the wrong way. I suppose it should rub me the wrong way. It is about a dude with major mommy issues (mommas, don’t let your kids watch you having three-ways!) killing and scalping women, after all. For me, Maniac gets slotted with the likes of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer as being a little too successful in achieving a high level of depravity. Still, I’ve never been one to shy away from horror films. In many ways, this is a well-made movie; for gore hounds, it features some first-rate bloody effects. However, the POV gimmick does the movie in, and takes things into snuff-film territory. Wood remains mostly unseen, because we are seeing the film through his…
02 Jul 2013
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Tina Fey is quirky. You can’t put her in a romantic comedy unless it is quirky and different. And she needs a quirky male counterpart—and who is quirkier than Paul Rudd, right? Fey also needs a quirky, different movie job (hmm … Princeton admissions administrator … that’s new!), and her character needs a quirky name (Portia!) and a quirky situation. In the case of Admission, Portia finds out that a kid who may be the son she gave up for adoption—a student of Rudd’s character—is applying to Princeton. He’s not a lock, and the quirky Rudd character asks her to consider the quirky kid for the school. This puts her in the quirky, precarious position of trying to push a kid through admissions who may or may not be her son. There’s also her quirky mom, played by the Queen of Quirk, Lily Tomlin, who conceived Portia in the quirkiest…
26 Jun 2013
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I was on an apocalypse-comedy high after seeing Seth Rogen’s funny This Is the End, so when I saw another end-of-times laugher on iTunes—which, like This Is the End, co-stars Craig Robinson—I bit. With Rapture-Palooza, I got a mouthful of worms. Anna Kendrick co-stars as Lindsey, a non-believer left behind after the rapture with her boyfriend, Ben (John Francis Daley). They live in Seattle, where the Antichrist (Robinson) has decided to settle and await his showdown with Jesus. There are some sporadic laughs, but nothing consistent. Rob Corddry, who really can’t be unfunny, gets a few giggles as Ben’s dad. (A bit in which he keeps hitting his son on the head is slightly humorous.) Robinson riffs a bit, and he’s always good for a chortle or two. However, most of the humor is stale, poorly timed and weak. I, for one, am tired of Ken Jeong’s shtick, and he…
25 Jun 2013
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I had the pleasure of seeing Sir Paul McCartney at Coachella a few years back—a few decades after he made his debut with a little bar band from Liverpool. At a festival full of amazing up-and-comers, Paul vanquished them all with a Beatles-heavy set that paid beautiful tribute to mates George Harrison and John Lennon. Paul McCartney and Wings: Rockshow, recorded in 1976, features Paul McCartney and Wings, the fine band he put together after calling it quits with that little bar band that wound up becoming the single greatest entity in rock/pop history. Here, we see McCartney, with wife Linda in tow, getting used to the idea of playing in front of large crowds again. (The Beatles quit touring in the late 1960s because they were basically afraid for their lives.) The set is a mixed bag. He does make a few nods to the Beatles catalogue with nice…
19 Jun 2013
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This movie caught me completely off-guard, thanks to a deranged surprise. Therefore, I’m not going to write anything in this review that will give away the twist. This is a funny, dark and twisted road comedy that boasts Edgar Wright (director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) as one of its executive producers. Steve Oram and Alice Lowe star as Chris and Tina, a couple going on their first holiday together. They pack up an RV, much to the chagrin of Alice’s mom, and head out on a tour of England. What follows? You’ll have to watch. Oram and Lowe are excellent, giving us the two best RV-trip characters since Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty in Lost in America. This is a deranged delight that’s well worth your time. Sightseers is available via IFC On Demand.
18 Jun 2013
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Regular readers know that I am not a fan of the “found footage” movie, especially “found footage” horror films. I HATE it when somebody is being chased by a monster or an evil cat or whatnot, and they manage to keep the film rolling. That’s crap! They would either drop that camera or use it as a weapon. So I sat down to watch this one with a certain amount of dread—and not the sort of dread one is supposed to feel before a horror-film viewing. This is another found-footage thing, with two people playing creepy VHS tapes in a strange house. Lo and behold, we actually have a found-footage movie that works for a change. It’s more of an anthology, with four segments nicely handled by four sets of directors. Eduardo Sanchez, co-director of The Blair Witch Project (and, therefore, one of the people most responsible for the found-footage…